Mardi Gras Anyone?

Mardi Gras seemed to come and go this year with little fanfare. In fact, if New Orleans hadn’t been featured as a backdrop to some of my favorite TV shows, I might not have noticed its arrival and departure at all—though I do recall seeing an online feature on Rio de Janeiro’s “Carnival” celebration . . . but that’s about it.

Maybe it’s because Mardi Gras occurred a little earlier this year (February 17) than the last few, or maybe it’s just that here in the USA, a prolonged cold and snowy winter (even in the deep south) has stymied a bit of the nation’s celebratory mood, leaving the media and most everyone else somewhat disinterested. Or maybe it’s just me.

Whatever the case, Mardi Gras is much more than an excuse for drinking and rabblerousing. For Christians, it’s a time for celebration and letting go before the season of sacrifice that follows.

I wrote a short blog about Mardi Gras four years ago. In it, I contemplated how Mardi Gras (representing excess) and the Christian Season of Lent (representing sacrifice) was analogous to our current economic cycle.

  • Has much changed for us in those four years?
  • Has much changed for friends, family, and loved ones?
  • Looking the world over, has much changed at all?

All politics aside, to paraphrase the immortal words of Ronald Reagan during the 1980 presidential debates, “Are we better off than we were four years ago?”

It’s hard to tell whether we’re better off, worse, or simply maintaining the status quo. With that in mind, re-read my earlier blog, then feel free to offer your answers. Curious monkeys want to know.

BoM-Mardi-Gras

Surviving and Thriving

(Originally Posted on March 22, 2011)

Mardi Gras has come and gone. There was lots of celebrating leading up to Fat Tuesday, followed by what many call “Trash Wednesday” (which is actually “Ash Wednesday”), the inevitable and much dreaded “day after.”

While Mardi Gras is popularly depicted as a time for parades, balls, and widespread partying, at its roots, Mardi Gras is based in religion, specifically the celebratory period leading to the Christian season of Lent, which is a time of sacrifice.

So it was in this vein I got to thinking the other day about how Mardi Gras closely resembles our current economic cycle. (I know, I know, it’s heady stuff coming from a King Monkey, but bear with me.)

If we think of the 1990s as our economic Mardi Gras, culminating with Fat Tuesday, then this decade (especially in recent years) represents “the day after” and the season of sacrifice to follow.

What have you had to sacrifice to keep your business afloat? How does the reality of today’s economy resemble the “good old days”? How is it different for you, personally and professionally?

I thoroughly believe the world needs more people who are willing to help one another out during tough times. My hope is that if I give 80% of the time, that 20% will come back to me.

For you new entrepreneurs, still wet behind the ears, who have never experienced a roaring economy, how have you managed to survive and thrive in times of scarcity?

Let us know. We monkeys like to share ideas!

Ellen’s ‘Ari’ experiences Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

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Needs vs. Wants Helps Us Keep Priorities in Focus

It’s not easy to stay focused—not in a world that seems to be moving at a million miles per hour, not in a world in which we are bombarded with endless news cycles that feed us stories ranging from deadly snow and cold in the northeast to ISIS beheadings in the Middle East to romantic tips for enjoying Valentine’s Day with your sweetheart. Throw in parental and spousal responsibilities (both of which I am blissfully aware these days), the obligations of running a household, managing your health, and—oh, by the way—running a business or sustaining a career, and it can all get a bit much at times.

BOM-wants-needs

Whether we realize it or not, we are all CEOs of our lives. We get to choose what to focus on and what to let go every minute of every day. Granted, it’s sometimes tough to admit for us “get-er-done” types, but there is only so much time in each day and only so much of us to go around. We can’t do it all, even though we’d like to.

It takes a real leader, someone comfortable with making choices and facing the consequences of those choices to say, “This is what I need to accomplish today or this week” versus “This is what I want to accomplish.”

  • To live, we need air, food, water, and shelter. We only want bottled water, a flat screen TV, the latest smartphone upgrade, and a big house. See the difference?
  • In relationships, we need love and companionship, while we may want to go out to dinner or the movies three times a week, or always be the life of the party.
  • In business and/or our jobs, we need to prove our value to our bosses or customers to remain gainfully employed or profitable. We only want to make as much profit/money as possible; we only want to beat all of our competitors; we only want to get that next promotion or land that big client even though our jobs/businesses are already satisfying our needs.

Now take a look at your “to-do” list for either work or home (or both) from the perspective of your needs vs. wants.

What do you need to accomplish today? What do you want to accomplish?

How can you use the notion of needs vs. wants to prioritize those items you must get done today, versus those you would like to get done today?

Make two new lists: your “need-to-do list” and your “want-to-do” list.

  • How many hours does your “need-to-do” list represent (and don’t forget to include adequate time for sleep and self-care)?
  • What happens if you don’t get to your “want-to-do” list items today . . . or any day for that matter?
  • If some of the want-to-do items have no real consequences if never addressed, do they really need to be on your list in the first place?

Look ahead several days, a week, or a month and identify those want-to-do items that by necessity will become need-to-do tasks (for example, completing projects on a deadline, paying bills, filing taxes, keeping a doctor’s appointment, etc.). How do these impending “need-to-do” items impact what new needs/wants you might consider going forward?

By keeping items on your radar that don’t need to get done today, but will eventually need to address, you can manage your workload better and juggle priorities so you don’t get overwhelmed down the road.

Granted, focusing only on doing what we need and never doing what we want could make for a very dull, utilitarian life. After all, it took lots of human aspiration and inspiration to get us where we are today—and where we are is pretty good, in general, no matter what the naysayers tell us. Every once in a while, we do need to treat ourselves by doing or getting something we want. It’s only human nature, and it’s really why we keep pushing and striving to do and be better. It’s the proverbial carrot at the end of the stick. It’s what drives innovation.

But on those days or during those weeks where there is just too much clutter and your priorities lack clarity, take a few minutes to assess your needs versus your wants and let some of your wants fall by the wayside, at least temporarily. You’ll be glad you did.

Dilbert cartoons where Wally ranks his priorities … and more!

Be the CEO—the leader—you need to be to give yourself permission to choose your priorities. Doing so just might be the answer you need to take charge of your life and keep it all in focus.

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Staying True to My Brand

With a personal slogan of “More Creativity, More Ideas, More Fun!” and a company logo that feature’s a blue monkey with a big, wide grin, it should come as no surprise that humor finds its way into my social media posts and blogs quite often.

Humor is an important part of who I am and thus an important part of “Paul June’s” brand story.

Just the other day, someone questioned whether me posting a joke on LinkedIn was an appropriate use of that forum.

I believe it was . . . and that it is.

BOM Stay True to Brand Story

Humor is important, whether it’s in our personal lives and relationships, around the dinner table, standing in line at the movie theater, on lunch break, or even in the board room.

I find humor energizing. It helps ease tension. Compare otherwise dry business speeches that use a bit of humor to those that do not. Which is more engaging?

With my Barrel O’ Monkeyz crew, humor is an important part of the “glue” that binds us together as a team. It’s an important part of our brand story. It frees our minds and leads to creativity.

Of course, there’s a time and a place for everything. Too much of anything—even a good thing—gets old. In business, there’s a time and a place for humor, just as there’s a time and a place for being serious.

So I’m not suggesting we turn LinkedIn into another Facebook, complete with favorite cat pictures, Farmville updates, and shout outs to long lost classmates. What I’m suggesting is that it’s good, even necessary, for all of us to lighten up once in a while—after all, “All work and no play makes Jack (or Jill) a dull boy (or girl)”—and that for me, doing so is consistent with my brand and the expectations of my target audience.

Here’s the LinkedIn post that had one of my contacts questioning if telling jokes on a business site was relevant:

“Dad, are they allowed to put two people in the same grave?”
“I don’t think so, son. Why do you ask?”
“Because that headstone over there says, ‘Here lies a lawyer and an honest man.'”

Admit it, even if you are a lawyer, you chuckled a bit, didn’t you?

I know through analytics and feedback from members of my target audience that they enjoy having the monotony of dull business articles broken up with my occasional jokes. As for those who do not, they’re most likely not in my target audience . . . and you can’t please everyone (nor should you try to). For them, they always have the choice to read something I post or not, or to follow my feed or not.

About 10 months ago, this same topic came up concerning my posts dealing with religious quotes. I said it then and I’ll say it again here: posting religious quotes (and jokes) “works for me and is part of who I am, and I am proud of it.”

What say you?

Here’s that blog again. Enjoy!

I Know My Brand . . . Do You Know Yours?

(Originally Posted on April 9, 2014)

Feedback is how we know we are doing something right; it’s also how we know when we’re doing something wrong. Feedback is necessary. It’s how we improve our relationships and raise our golf (or in my case, volleyball) game to the next level; it’s also how we fine-tune our business offerings and hone our brands.

I love getting and giving feedback.

On the personal side, feedback is important for growing and nurturing relationships with friends and family and loved ones. As a marketer and a business entrepreneur, feedback is necessary for the care and feeding of my business relationships and network, and it’s how I know if my message is getting out and whether or not my brand is clear.

That’s why I encourage readers of this blog and my followers on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn to comment on my posts. Generally, your comments help me know if my message/brand is being received as intended or whether I need to refine my approach.

Every now and then, though, I get feedback that makes me step back and think, what is my brand? Do I truly know it, and am I communicating it effectively?

Recently, my inspirational, daily religious quote elicited the following response from a long-time LinkedIn contact, creative branding specialist, and friend:

Re: Ponder This

Hey Paul – hope all is well, but I have a question for you. 

Do you think religious scripture – regardless of what one’s faith is – is appropriate for LinkedIn, a business site?

Do you see any other posts like that?

Those of you who read this blog regularly or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn know that my beliefs and values are worldly with a Christian focus. I make no attempt to hide this. Authenticity and being true to my beliefs and values are important to me. You also know that I do not try to juggle both a “business brand” along with a “personal brand.” There is only one Paul June, so there is only one Paul June brand.

Thus my reply—

It works for me and is part of who I am, and I am proud of it. I respect all religions and enjoy seeing when others post (which is seldom to your point). Feel free to disregard. Hope all is well and I like your comment. 

— was really the only reply possible so that I could stay true to myself and to my brand.

Some of you may be thinking this flies in the face of the old adage, “never mix religion and politics with business or polite company.” In other words, why go there if I don’t need to?

It’s simple, really. I choose to “go there” because doing so reveals something about me as a person; it’s not an attempt to sway others to my point of view. It’s who I am. It’s my brand.

Branding: Know yourself and know your audience
… and pull a few tails along the way.

I know my brand  . . . do you know yours?

  • I know my brand.
  • I know my audience.
  • Analytics speak to it.
  • “Daily Religious Quotes” speak to it.
  • “Daily Quotes” speak to it.
  • People who do business with me value it.
  • My personal slogan is “More Creativity, More Ideas, More Fun!”
  • My target audience covers consumer (people) products and can be broken down into consumer electronics, toys, gifts, apparel, sports, outdoor retail, action sports, general retail, digital media, social media, web site development, SEO/SEM, marketing, and branding.
  • One of my goals with this blog and through social media is to inspire, motivate, and energize others by providing what I think is entertaining, informative, and enriching content.

In the end, it’s all about being genuine and “real” to your audience. It’s about knowing your brand. In the immortal words of a certain, spinach-eating cartoon character, “I yam what I yam and that’s all what I yam.

So now you know how I responded to the “Ponder This” comment. How would you have replied? Please share with others. I look forward to and invite your feedback.

Special Thanks to Chris GreggJamie BlattsteinMatt McGovern and Monkeyz Business Nation for their inspiration, feedback, and support.

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A Lesson in Branding from the NFL

While I didn’t really have a “dog” in this show—my favorite team, the Oakland Raiders haven’t even got a whiff of the playoffs in a decade plus—being a west coaster, I was rooting for the Seattle Seahawks to be crowned champions again this year. One miracle catch had them poised to repeat, but a questionable goal line play call, an interception seemingly out of nowhere, and undoubtedly a few cardiac arrests by fans of both teams later, and the New England Patriots were winners of their fourth SuperBowl in 13 years.

BOM Seahawks Joke

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the tandem of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady gets things done . . . and has been getting things done for 14 years and counting. In fact, let’s include a third person in that grouping, creating the Patriots “Trinity,” owner Bob Kraft who bought the team in 1994.

Since then, the Patriots have morphed from at-best a mediocre team with occasional flashes of potential to becoming a perennial top contender. The numbers don’t lie: New England has made the playoffs 16 times in the last 20 years; they won AFC East titles in 1996, 1997, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014; they were AFC champions in 1996, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2011, and 2014; and they’ve gone 4-3 in their seven SuperBowl appearances since Kraft took over. Not a bad run, if you ask me.

So what’s the reason for the Patriot’s success and their ability to sustain it over the years?

Naturally, much of it has to do with having the right mix of athletes and coaching at the right time, plus some good old-fashioned luck. But as a brand builder, I can’t help but attribute a good deal of New England’s success to the organization’s ability to craft and live its own brand story, both internally and externally.

As an organization, New England seems to be one of those few NFL teams that remains consistent to who they are and “why” they are, with a well-defined vision and clear objectives. It’s classic Branding 101, and I have to believe it has something to do with their owner, who also just happens to own Kraft Foods, another major brand success story. Clearly, Mr. Kraft “gets it” and I’m betting he makes sure the rest of the organization, from the head coach to the practice squad to the ball boys, “gets it,” too.

Of course, there have been a few pock marks on the Patriot’s road to success. Like most organizations, there have been some missteps along the way—such as the “Spy-gate” scandal where Coach Belichick was accused of and fined $500,000 for illegally videotaping opponent defensive signals; the arrest and current trial of tight end Aaron Hernandez for murder; and, of course, the most recent “Deflate-gate” controversy where the Patriots stand accused of using underinflated footballs in their AFC championship victory over Indianapolis. But the strength of their brand, the strength of the “Patriot Way,” has allowed them, thus far, to weather any and all storms thrown their way.

NFL 2015 — A Bad Lip Reading (Funny)

Here’s is my insight into the “Patriots Way” (granted, I don’t have any knowledge of the inner workings of the Patriots machine, so consider this an outsider’s perspective looking in):

  • They have a clear understanding of their organizational cultural, which governs the type of players and coaches they want. Those who fit the culture, they welcome into the fold. Those who don’t either never get to Foxboro or are sent packing.
  • They establish and enforce organizational behaviors & beliefs to govern who they are, what they believe, and how they act. No individual is greater than the team; team goals always outweigh individual goals. What happens in the clubhouse, stays in the clubhouse (think about it, when is the last time you remember hearing anything even close to a clubhouse controversy or squabble between players?). Further, all personnel are expected to represent the Patriots brand well at all times and never give the other team anything it can use as “bulletin board” material around which to rally—something Wes Welker seemingly “forgot” when he let loose with a series of jokes about then-NY Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan’s alleged involvement in a foot fetish video with his wife (Welker was not in the starting lineup for the AFC championship game, and a year later was off to the Denver Broncos).
  • They have an uncanny ability to stay focused and to keep their eyes on the prize. From injuries and underperformance to various controversies and intense media scrutiny, the Patriots never seem to let any of the chatter get in the way of their achieving their goals. There are no better examples than the recent “deflate-gate” charges or earlier this season when facing a record of 2-2 following a blow-out loss to the Kansas City Chiefs and when all the NFL pundits and even a few New England fans were wondering if 37-year-old Tom Brady was finally reaching the end of his great run or if Coach Belichick had lost his magic touch, the team’s stance was simply “We’re on to Cincinnati” (their next opponent). This simple message became a rallying cry of sorts for the remainder of the season, culminating with Belichick’s declaration “We’re on to Seattle” when “deflate-gate” first surfaced.
  • They don’t let sentimentality get in the way of their business goals. They recognize that while football is a game, the NFL is a business. As such, they focus on winning today and sustaining their winning ways going forward. What happened last season or even last game is in the past. For the Patriot’s on-field product, it’s all about doing and being in the best position possible to win the next game. The list of players cut loose by the Patriots when they were just past their primes (or soon to be) is long: Richard Seymour, Willie McGinest, Logan Mankins, and even Drew Bledsoe (Tom Brady’s predecessor). Some look at this as the organization being ruthless and uncaring, but it’s been essential to the Patriot’s success . . . and the Patriots seem to go out of their way to honor the past contributions of their “favorite sons” by naming them honorary captains and including them in various team events and activities. It’s only on the playing field, where performance is critical to winning, that they are no longer deemed necessary.

It will be interesting to see, in the not too distant future, when the careers of QB Tom Brady and Coach Belichick come to their inevitable ends, and when the elder Mr. Kraft eventually rides into the sunset, if those left behind—the new head coach, the new starting QB, and Jonathan Kraft (his father’s heir apparent)—can continue the Patriot’s strong brand performance.

Some businesses have done it. Disney had a bit of a rocky path after Walt’s death, but eventually righted its ship in the early 1980s to cement itself as one of the world’s most enduring brands. Apple has had a few “hiccups” of its own since founder Steve Jobs died in 2011, but if the first quarter of 2015 is any indicator, Apple is again on its way to record profits.

Where do you think the Patriot brand will be 3, 5, 10 years from now?

“I think people in America today, it’s not just about money,” Kraft said back in 2013, commenting on what he considers the ‘Patriot Way.’ “They want to be connected to something they feel is special and when they get up every day, they look forward to coming to work. We try to create an environment here that does that. We’re not always successful, but we give it our best shot.”

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If Chimps Can Do It . . .

I was reading an online article this week about scientists studying how chimpanzees communicate. For this particular study, researchers spent 750 hours observing chimps and analyzing their vocalizations.

What they found is that chimps indeed do “talk” to one another using a “variety of vocalizations, but also facial expressions and gestures.” Unsurprisingly, most of their discussions revolve around food and, in particular, favorite fruits and where they can be found.

I guess our simian friends talk about a lot of the same stuff we do! Can “Yelp for Chimpanzees” be far behind?

After reading the article, I got to thinking that for beings with such advanced language skills, we humans sure seem to have a lot of communications issues. Chief among them is the tendency of people NOT to say what they want or need and when they need it, especially in work settings.

I explored this topic in a blog nearly two years ago. Here’s that blog again. Enjoy!

BOM-If-Chimps-Can-Do-It

If You Need Something, Just Ask

(Originally posted on April 10, 2013)

I am often surprised when I hear people grumbling how they didn’t get something they wanted, only to find out from them later that they never really asked for it.

  • “I built this new Web site and all I really wanted was for people to contact me for a free consult.” (Well, did you actually ASK people to do that? Did you provide an easy mechanism for that to happen?)
  • “I really wanted this project done by Monday. But now I’m told by my team that I won’t get it until Wednesday morning at the earliest.”(When you requested the work to be done, did you state a deadline or any kind of timeframe requirement?)
  • “My boss asked me to complete this assignment. I thought he needed it, like, yesterday so I spent all weekend working on it. Now he tells me he doesn’t need it until next week. Can you believe that?” (When the assignment was made, did you ask when it was needed?)
  • “I am being asked to do the impossible. I have to write this article in three days and no one has filled me in with any of the particulars about the history or the people involved.”(Cat got your tongue? If you know you don’t have the information you need, why not ask for it?)

These examples might seem extreme, but in my experience, they are quite common. For whatever reasons, people tend NOT to say what they want/need and when they need it. Will asking make them look bad or foolish? Will asking make others uncomfortable? Or are they just fearful of getting an answer they won’t like, such as “I need it before you leave for the day” or “I can’t do it”?

It’s easy to stay quiet. You don’t make waves or ruffle feathers that way, at least to begin with, but eventually, the dangers of not asking catch up to you. Plus “not asking” has a bit of a passive/aggressive feel to me:

  • When you’re asked to do/complete something that’s unrealistic and you don’t push back, are you really just looking for a reason to grumble to others about the request or person making the request?
  • When you ask someone to do something but don’t provide enough information or context or even a deadline, are you really just afraid you’ll hear something you don’t want to hear (such as “It can’t be done”) or worse yet, are you looking for a reason to criticize someone else’s performance or lack thereof?

Asking should be simple . . . and it is. I believe we all perform better and feel better when we know the rules and the expectations. To that end, ask about what you don’t know and ask for what you need. That way both “asker” and “askee” lessen any chance of harboring unrealistic expectations and making unrealistic promises.

Here are some rules of thumb:

  • If you make a request of another person to do something for you (whether it’s business-oriented or a personal request) include a timeframe and be specific. You’re not being aggressive or overbearing if you do. It just makes good sense.
  • If you are on the receiving end of a request or make a commitment to someone else not knowing when it needs to be done—in an hour, this afternoon, next week, or the proverbial “yesterday”—or not knowing all the particulars, shame on you. Don’t say you can do something, knowing that you can’t deliver.
  • If you need more time to do good work, ask for more time. If more time can’t be granted because of a hard-and-fast deadline, suggest alternatives for what can be done NOW, within the timeframe, to satisfy the core requirement, and what can be done longer-term. This way, you satisfy the client/friend/family member’s immediate need while gaining additional time to fulfill the request for the long-term . . . and neither of you gets too stressed out.

These rules of thumb can apply to your personal life as well. Maybe a child, spouse, or friend has asked for something for school, work, or the home that you simply can’t get delivered on time, you don’t have time for, or that’s out of your price range. Are there alternatives that will satisfy the immediate need (“need” in this case is not the same as “want”), while you try to fulfill the want more long-term?

For example, let’s say your 15-year-old niece really wants to go to the mall because she needs to get something for school or the big dance that’s tomorrow, after which she’d really like to get dropped off at a friend’s house or go out to grab a bite (after all, you’re already out, aren’t you?). So she asks you to drive her because Mom and Dad are busy. You, on the other hand, have already made personal commitments to others for that same time period, and frankly it’s lots of driving and lots of gas money, and your niece is not in a position where she can chip in (nor do you feel comfortable asking her).

What are you to do?

Instead of stating a flat-out “No” (which would perturb your niece and make dear-old “Unkie” persona non-grata) and instead of sucking it up with a “Yes” and a smile (which would make you break promises you made to others and stress you/them out), offer your niece an alternative. Maybe you can bring her to the mall. It’s on the way or nearby, plus that’s what she really needs, while the rest (friend’s house and/or food) are really just extras or “wants.” She’ll get something (trip to the mall), you’ll get something (you get to keep your commitments, make your niece happy, plus keep the gas needle off “E”) . . . and it all starts by asking a simple question, “I can’t do all of that, but what if we do this instead?”

What has your experience been when you’ve asked instead of assumed? Conversely, how has NOT asking affected you personally? Professionally? (See how easy it is to ask.)

Share your answers here.

Top 10 Funny Monkey Videos Compilation (2014)

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What Can Your Taxes Teach You? Business 101?

Inevitably, once the NFL playoffs hit, individuals, married couples, small business owners, and corporate financial types start hauling out the previous year’s receipts, bank statements, and other tax records.

It’s a sure sign that tax season has arrived: W2s and 1099s and Mortgage Interest statements are crossing in the mail; numbers are getting crunched and then crunched again in hopes of different outcomes; and tax preparers are bracing for the inevitable race to the April 15 finish line, wishing that this year—just for once—their always last-minute clients wouldn’t be quite so last minute this time around.

BOM What Taxes Teach You

An interesting wrinkle this year is that the IRS has warned that taxpayers should expect lengthy waits on hold if they call with questions, and that we shouldn’t expect our refunds anytime soon—all due to agency budget cuts that reduced staffing levels and the ability of those left behind to respond in a timely manner. (You’d think with advances in automation and electronic filing, the system would be slicker and more efficient than ever. I guess not, and in the interest of not raising the ire of any IRS agents reading this blog, I’ll just leave it there. Safe to say, customer service does not appear to be a priority.)

A funny thing happens to me each year when I begin purging my files (electronic and physical) of receipts and various other tax records. As I work through the process of categorizing and itemizing, I can’t help but stop and reflect on each item, trying not only to remember what it is or was, and if it’s deductible, but why it was part of my year and what it represented to me, my family, or my business.

  • What were my intentions buying said item, or attending an event, or travelling to some networking event or tradeshow? Did I achieve my goals? Did I get my anticipated return on investment of time, energy, and money?
  • Did I do enough with my favorite charities? Could I have done more, and what was the result of what I did do?
  • Do my receipts for health expenses reflect good things or bad, or simply what can be expected of a man my age with a new wife and a new baby in the house? Were there surprises, and what does my 2014 experience bode for this year?
  • Did I put enough away for retirement? Better yet, did I put anything away for retirement?
  • Did I make my revenue goals or did I fall short? Am I gaining or losing? If the former, how can I keep it up. If the latter, what can I do differently?
  • Where did I go? Who did I entertain?
  • Did new business initiatives pay off? If so, did I toe the line on my 2014 plan, or did new opportunities arise throughout the year that reflect unplanned but warranted expenses (or the opposite)?
  • Are there patterns here that I can use to plan for 2015 and beyond?

Your tax records can tell you (quite literally) where you spend most of your time and money. They can paint a detailed picture of your life from year to year: what you bought, where you went, how much you earned, how much you put away for retirement, how healthy you were, what charities you donated to, who was dependent on you, and even more. As such, your tax records offer a glimpse at those things you deem most important.

Looking at your receipts and records, what do they reveal about your 2014 priorities? Did your expenditures reflect your values—those things that matter most to you—or do they tell a different story?

Examine your records closely. Think about the year that was vs. the year that could have been or the year you intended.

Are your intentions—what you want to do and get from your life and your work—aligned with your actions, how you actually expend your time and money?

If so, kudos to you. If not, why not? Are there opportunities for you to re-align spending habits and priorities so that next tax season your life’s picture is more in keeping with the one you hoped to paint?

Either way, celebrate your achievements—those planned and those that just happened—and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Also consider the challenges you, family members, or your business faced, and remember how you responded. Let any lessons learned influence future actions.

Chances are you’ll find that you accomplished much more than you remember or give yourself credit for . . . and, go figure, we all have the IRS to thank for this opportunity to look back before we look ahead. Happy tax season (85 days and counting until April 15,2015).

What did you learn in 2014?

Letterman Top 10 Tax Tips

TAX HELP—My sister, Trish Wright, has a new tax business: www.ameritaxca.com. She has owned and operated five “Liberty Taxes” and has now ventured out under her own name. She provides great tax assistance for all levels of business and general consumers, with a special focus on returns for those experiencing change, who might have all sorts of questions, and who want to feel comfortable in the process.

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Service Anyone?

It was “swearing-in time” in Washington DC this past week, as well as for state legislatures around the country. Newly-elected and returning senators and representatives smiled for the cameras, swore their oaths, and took their seats.

It was a fairly drama-free exercise, especially since it was a mid-term election cycle, meaning there was no Presidential inauguration.

Predictably, those interviewed talked of service to their constituents and service to their country, which, equally as predictable, got me to thinking about John F. Kennedy’s famous “ask not what your country can do for you“ inaugural speech from 1961.

A lot has changed in the 54 years since then, especially in Washington DC (or maybe it’s just that the veneer has been chipped away and we are better able to see how our government has always operated). Whatever the case, we can only wonder how sincere calls for duty and service are among our elected leaders. Do they mean what they say, or are their words hollow? Do they intend to serve us or simply serve themselves? I’m hopeful for the former, but suspect many will continue to focus on the latter.

Luckily, just because those in Washington DC and our state capitals choose to act one way does not mean we have to follow suit. In our homes, schools, churches, businesses, and communities, we can be of service to one another. All it takes is a willingness to give of yourself to others in ways big or small. It all adds up, and there is no lack of ways to serve.

Two years ago, on the occasion of the 2013 Presidential inauguration, I wrote a blog about service and how we can all pitch in to make a difference in our own ways. Here’s that blog again . . . and here’s to service! Enjoy.

Its Your ServeIt’s Your Serve

(Originally posted on January 23, 2013)

This week’s inauguration ceremonies got me thinking back to previous inauguration addresses, most notably newly-elected President John F. Kennedy’s address delivered some fifty-one years ago this week on the mall in Washington DC. While I wasn’t around at the time (and wouldn’t be for quite some time), I have read about and heard bits and pieces of the speech over the years. This is the speech where Kennedy spoke the now-famous words, “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

What has always struck me about this speech is its focus on “service,” which runs throughout as a general theme, as though “service” is a duty of every American, as though America—and ultimately the world—could be and would be so much more if people were simply to focus on how they could serve their neighbors, their communities, their country.

If we were to apply the Pareto principle to service, we would conclude that 80% of the service contributions in this country come from just 20% of the population. Are you one of the 20%? What might this country be capable of if the number of contributors was 30%, 40% . . . more? The results might truly astound us.

What do I mean by service?

Service can come in many forms, including donating time, expertise, goods, and even money. Many serve by volunteering in their churches, schools, hospitals, and other community hotspots. Others serve by organizing events, such as races, walks for charity, bake sales, craft fairs, or facilitating support and mentoring groups of all kinds.

You name it, there is no lack of ways to serve, only those willing to serve.

Why would someone serve?

While some undoubtedly serve to get something in return (recognition, a pat on the back, the possibility of some future monetary gain), at its heart, serving is really more about giving back to the community. It’s about contributing to something that’s bigger than yourself, that’s more than right here, right now. It’s about paying it forward (see my related blogs, Keep Your Eyes on the Prize & Occupy Your Community: Charity Begins at Home) and (while this might sound hokey to some) it’s about doing the right thing.

How do people serve?

Big effort or small, everyone CAN serve. In fact, some of you may be serving already and not even realize it! Every time you coach a colleague or dispense advice to a friend, family member, or co-worker you are serving. You see “serving” isn’t only about contributing to community causes or donating money, it’s about being there for other people, the young and the old, and giving of yourself.

In addition to volunteering in traditional church, school, and community settings, here are examples of other ways you can serve:

  • Be a mentor to up-and-comers in your field of expertise. Sharing your knowledge and lessons learned is a great way to pay it forward.
  • Be active in networking groups. Truly give of yourself and your wealth of knowledge to help others find new jobs, new careers, new opportunities. You’ll be amazed at how being generous with your time spurs such behavior in others.
  • Arrange an event, such as a 5K run, walk, or school career day. Not only will the effort be cathartic for you, but you will get to know a great deal more about others and about your community in general.
  • Participate in your local school or city government.Instead of complaining about the state of affairs, do something about it by offering solutions.
  • Coach a sports or academic team, especially if your son or daughter is participating. Not only is this great community service, but a fantastic opportunity for some parent-child bonding.
  • Volunteer at your local animal shelter. There is something good for the soul about helping abused, sick, and abandoned animals get well and find loving homes.
  • Be a big brother/big sister. What better way to contribute to the future than to be there for a child? Whether it’s through the actual Big Brother/Big Sister program or other such programs, makes no difference—you taking the time to be there for a young person does.
  • Be a companion to elders at a nursing home, retirement community, veterans’ home, or private home. Too often, when it comes to service, we forget about those who served us. Many of our seniors wind up alone and neglected. Here’s a great way to be a friend and companion while also getting to bask in the wisdom of someone who’s been there and done it. Who knows, you might even learn something!

As you can see, the list of “service” opportunities could be endless. What I’ve found is that for those of us who think about serving but never get around to it, doing so is usually just a matter of overcoming inertia and making something happen rather than lack of desire. If nothing above, stirs your interest, talk to a friend, colleague, or someone you know who is active in the community. Be creative and curious. You’ll find something eventually. The important thing is that you do something.

Some of the ways I serve include working with San Diego Sports Innovators (http://www.sdsportinnovators.org) as an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) mentoring three start-up companies, participation on the Board of Directors for Huntington’s Disease Society of America of San Diego (http://www.hdsasandiego.org), and participation on the Board of North County Alumni Association for the “War of the Roses” Valentine’s Volleyball Tournament to benefit HDSA-SD (http://www.facebook.com/events/117821341724301).

HDSA San Diego Chapter – Hope Gala 2014!

Like ever-expanding ripples that result from a pebble dropped in a pond (for related reading, see my “Pebbles” blog), when people serve, they make things better for their communities, their schools, their churches, and for everyone around them.

People who serve make a difference. How can you step up and make a difference in 2013 . . . and beyond?

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As Leader, the Buck Stops with You

One of my long-time brand “heroes” let me down over the holidays. No, it wasn’t the fact that the item I ordered didn’t make it in time for Christmas, though that was the case. Nor was it the fact that this long-time ecommerce vendor failed to plan adequately for the inevitable holiday deluge of orders. Nor did I think this vendor’s $25 win-back gift was too meager.

That wasn’t it at all.

What really let me down is that instead of just saying, “We screwed up. Sorry! How can we make it right?” this company’s founder and CEO, in a wordy email sent on Christmas Day to thousands of affected customers wrote that, essentially, “We screwed up, but it was not our fault.”

Instead of taking full responsibility for the problem, the CEO chose to blame others.

Barrel O Monkeyz Leadership

I’ll be the first to admit that things go wrong and stuff happens. Nobody and no situation is perfect. No one is infallible. But when you are the leader—and in this case the leader of a very popular, trendy brand founded in 2000 (which in this day-and-age is a lifetime ago), that has been featured in national and international media—ultimately the buck stops with you. Period.

Yes, I understand you tried your best, that demand exceeded expectations, and that your team—stretched thin as it was—literally scrambled to make it all work out (and nearly succeeded). I also understand that you were working with new vendors and new suppliers, and that not all of them met their contractual obligations to you, which caused most, if not all, of the problems.

I understand all of that . . .

But ultimately, as leader you are responsible. It’s your job to ensure that your number one asset (your team)—and I include in this not only your employees but also contractors, suppliers, and vendors—is up to the task. If they fail to deliver, it’s not their fault—it’s yours for failing to plan adequately and to vet them properly.

Further, you should never, ever air your organization’s dirty laundry so openly with the public. Internal failures should remain internal.

How would you like to work with a CEO so quick to throw his or her team under the bus? Would that motivate you to work harder or better in the future? This kind of public blame inevitably leads to team dissension, distrust, and disharmony . . . which doesn’t bode well for the future of this company if left unchecked.

Twitter’s CEO discusses winning management and leadership styles.

Will I give this vendor another shot? Probably. After all, doesn’t everybody deserve a second chance?

In the close to the email, the CEO told me to “rest assured the problem has been fixed.” I wonder, though, has it really?

I responded to the email, one senior level executive to another, expressing many of my sentiments outlined above. I urged the CEO to read my reply with an open mind. Why? Not because I was trying to show the CEO up or come off as preachy, but because I sincerely believe our biggest learnings come from failure (and failing fast in order to learn quickly from our mistakes) . . . and no CEO worth his or her own salt is ever too big or too successful to fail or to learn.

Here’s to hoping this CEO fails fast!

From senior execs at Twitter and Amazon and Threadless, to Facebook and Starbucks and countless others, leadership inspiration abounds . . . yet no one is immune to failure, not even yours truly at Barrel O’ Monkeyz. It’s how you respond to that failure that truly defines you as a leader.

Where will your leadership take you and your team in 2015?

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How Was Your 2014?

The end of another year is upon us, and a new one is about to begin.

How did 2014 treat you? How did you treat 2014?

Were you a wallflower, or did you join-in?

Sure, the world had its ups and downs, but for me, 2014 was fantastic: I got engaged, got married, welcomed baby Lee, and re-launched Barrel O’ Monkeyz with a new website, a new team, and renewed energy. For me, that kind of success starts with having good relationships, personally, professionally, and everything in-between.

Last year, I wrote a blog about networking, and specifically about networking around the holidays, what with the many opportunities to do so. Those who read this blog know that I am a big proponent of networking and building relationships . . . and what better way to do it than over dinner, over drinks, or at a party or event?

So, without further ado, enjoy that blog again. Here’s to continued networking success in 2015 and to peace and prosperity for all in the new year.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from Barrel O Monkeyz

“Glass of Wine” Networking

(Originally posted on January 7, 2014)

Did you attend a work party over the holidays, or get together with co-workers or colleagues to ring in the New Year? If you did, chances are you did more than spread some holiday cheer. Whether you know it or not, you were “networking”—either creating relationships important to your business, job, or personal life, or cementing them.

Recently when I was touting the power and efficacy of networking, someone asked me “Are you networking or just going out for drinks?”

“Good question,” I replied, thinking to myself ‘Is there any difference?’

Of course, it depends. What is your mindset when you go out for drinks (or attend a chamber of commerce event or a leads group meeting or some other gathering of like-minded business professionals)? Sure, you could just show up, grab a drink and a snack, and then make your escape, but what would be the sense of that? I’m a big believer that if you’re making the effort to get out and about, whether it’s one-on-one or in a small group, at least attempt to engage others in conversation. You might be surprised at the connections you make, the information you gather, and even the relationships you establish.

Think about how you’ve developed relationships in the past.

  • How did you meet your spouse or significant other?
  • How did you meet your friends, your business partner, your top clients?

Probably, the seeds for these and similar other relationships germinated over dinner, a glass of wine, or at some event—a form of “social” networking done old school style.

Anytime we engage with someone else—socially, collegially, professionally, whether it’s over wine or at a BBQ or at a business meeting—we are participating in a form of networking. Just what results from these encounters is up to us. For instance, when you attend a networking event, what signals do you send when you sit quiet and alone, waiting for others to approach you? Now think of what kind of signals you send when you take the initiative and join in?

Happy New Year from Barrel O Monkeyz = Drink Responsibly

You get the idea. Consider these icebreakers to get conversations started:

Ask others . . .

  • about theirbusinesses and what they do
  • what brings them to this particular event
  • how they got involved in their particular line of work or profession
  • where they went to college or got their training
  • what trends they see going forward in their industry
  • if they’ve ever heard the featured guest or speaker at a particular event before

Notice that these questions are all about them. That’s important, because relationships aren’t all about you. They are a two-way street. Be prepared to respond with your own answers to these or similar questions, and once the ice is broken, what comes next is all about what’s possible—perhaps the start of a lasting friendship, a key business relationship, or maybe it’s as simple as making (or receiving) a referral.

Whatever it is, remember it’s all good . . .  and it’s all an example of how networking can happen at any level at any time. As with most things, what you get out of it depends on what kind of effort you give—and often the pay back (or pay forward) will exceed your expectations. All that’s needed is the willingness to engage others one-on-one or in group settings and see where budding social or professional relationships might take you (and if there just happens to be a glass of wine in the mix, that’s just icing on the cake!).

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Happy Holidays from Barrel O’Monkeyz

BOM Happy Holidays 2014

I hope everyone is as excited for the holidays as this puppy!

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